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2017 Offensive ID: Zampese/Bengals

2017 Offensive ID: Zampese/Bengals

If you’re interested in this article, first please read my take on the offensive identities (Part 1 and Part 2) of all the teams in 2016. That will explain some of the stats in this article, which I will not explain here. As I did last year, I will write a detailed piece on each team.

Ken Zampese returns as the Bengals’ OC. He had been the QB coach for the entirety of Marvin Lewis’ head coaching tenure, serving under three OCs: Bob Bratkowski from 2003 to 2010, Jay Gruden from 2011 to 2013, and Hue Jackson, 2014-2015. While that gives him one year to establish his own identity, last year was marred by three key injuries to the Cincinnati offense: A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Bernard. So we may not have seen Zampese' true identity under those conditions. Therefore, I'm going to show his whole tenure in Cincinnati to see what clues there might be to what he'll do in 2017. Keep in mind that the Bratkowski offense was very different from what followed, and Jackson's also had some outlier characteristics.










KZ = Ken Zampese’s offense
NFL = Average NFL offense
Cin = Bengals' offense before Zampese

Last year was the first losing season in Cincinnati since 2010 and was more in line with the early years of Lewis' tenure, which were up and down. The Bengals had have been consistent winners the last several years before 2016. Vegas expects something of a bounceback in 2017, setting the over/under at 8.5 wins. I can see this team anywhere between the 4 and 12-win extremes of the Lewis era, but think 8 wins is the most likely outcome.


The Offense Overall










Total plays – the sum of rushing and passing plays.

Zampese' play total was above average last year, a result mostly of playing more from behind. This meant running less and trying to conserve time. A couple more wins this year should mean a little more rushing and lower play total overall. I'd expect this team to be around the league average of 1030 plays, a neutral fantasy environment, if they are around 8 wins. They'll have more plays if they lose more, and fewer if they win more than 8 games.










% Rushing plays - the percentage of total plays devoted to running the ball, including QB runs.

While Zampese ran less as a share of plays than recent Bengals' offenses, he did it more than the league average. I’d expect Zampese to still lean toward running the ball more than most teams. There is upside to 45+% rushing plays if the team has double-digit wins, but I think Zampese will run about 44% of the time this year (and less if his team comes in under 8 wins).



















Total Passes includes sacks as well as pass attempts.

Last year the team had more plays than average, so even leaning run more than most, the Bengals had an average number of total passes. Anticipating 44% of 1030 plays in 2017 would put Zampese at about 450 runs and 580 passes. Andy Dalton will probably get about 50 rushes, so that leaves 400 carries for the RBs to divvy up.












KZ F1 – Ken Zampese’s top fantasy scorer at this position; 25 yds = 1 FP; td pass = 4 FP
Cin = the Bengals top fantasy scorer at this position

Most years Dalton has been a backup QB for fantasy: 4 of 6 seasons in the league. Twice his FP/G has been in fantasy starter territory; coincidently both were odd-numbered years if you want to cling to that. More relevantly, he has averaged about 5% more FP/G when Green plays and 20% more when Eifert is in the lineup. Basically, Eifert adds 4 FP/G to Dalton's total, pushing him up to the overall QB6 level for fantasy. I'd draft him as a backup, but be happy to start him if Eifert's playing.


Running Backs










Rush % RB1 – RB1 is defined as the RB on the team who got the largest number of carries. The Rush % RB1 is the percentage of the team’s total RB rushes claimed by its RB1.

Zampese gave his RB1 about 60% of the carries, allowing for the fact that Jeremy Hill missed a game. That's right at the league average and consistent with how the Bengals' offense has operated in recent years. If Zampese sticks with that, he'll give the lead ballcarrier 240 carries this year (based on 400 RB carries estimated above). Previous to 2013 though, the #1 rusher on the team got about 70% of the team's RB carries. That puts an upside of 280 rushes on the lead back.

But who's the RB1? Hill is the incumbent but the team spent a lot of draft capital (and goodwill) on Joe Mixon. Will one of these two have a dominant share of carries or will they split them? Could Mixon get the bulk but Hill retain a goal-line role, vulturing TDs from the rookie? Hill has 21 TDs at the goal-line over the last three years, tied for the most in the league, and his 46% TD rate on goal-line carries is above the league average in that time (41%).

Hill consistently has had 220-230 carries, so I don't see him moving up to 280 in a more crowded backfield. Mixon's potential may be at the 280 level, but I'd be surprised to see him completely push the veteran aside this year. So I think it would be optimistic to expect this offense to give Mixon more than 240 carries, which caps his potential in 2017 particularly if Hill gets the more valuable touches inside the 5.



















Target % - the percentage of the total targets thrown to each position group.

Zampese gave his RBs a league average share of targets last year, which given the run-pass mizx and play total translated to a hair under the league total for RB targets. However, the team passed to its backs more when Bernard played (6.6 tgt/gm) than when he was out (5.8). And Rex Burkhead, who assumed the pass-catching role in Bernard's absence, is gone now.

Except for when Jackson was OC, this team used its backs less than most in the passing game – and Jackson's tenure coincided partly with Bernard's. My suspicion is that if Bernard plays, this team will be around the league average in RB targets. But in his absence, Zampese will throw less to his backs than most teams.



















The Target % for RB1 is the share of the targets to his position group.

Zampese did not use his RB1 extensively in the passing game – and those stats reflect a slight uptick in Hill's targets when Bernard was out. RB1s have historically not featured prominently in this passing game. If Hill stays as the RB1, don't expect more than 30 targets for him. If Mixon captures the role, there is some upside on that number, as he was used in the passing game in college at a similar rate to Bernard at that level. However, Mixon's agility (20 yard shuttle plus cone drill time) is substantially lower than Bernard's (11.37 vs. 11.03). Agility often has a high correlation with RB receiving success in the NFL.

I don't think Mixon will top 30 targets if he's the RB1, but he does have more upside in the passing game than Hill. Bernard, if healthy, will still get 60ish targets. Mixon's chance for upside is if Bernard is hurt, as there is no apparent pass-catching RB option on the team. While the team will probably throw less to its backs in that case, there still would be a couple of dozen targets available for Mixon to pick up on top of 30 as the RB1.










KZ F1 – Ken Zampese’s top fantasy scorer at this position; PPR scoring
Cin = Bengals' top fantasy scorer at this position

Zampese's top scoring back for fantasy was not his lead ballcarrier. Hill finished as RB28 in FP/G; Bernard was RB27. Lack of passing game use has held down Hill in the past: he was been RB15 and RB33 overall in 2014-2015, Barnard was RB12 and RB31 those years. The pass-catching back in this offense and the RB1 in terms of carries are both fantasy RB3, with the pass-catcher having a slight edge.

Mixon has upside on Hill's numbers if the rookie can be the lead rusher, the goal-line back, and take on more receiving duties. Even then, this offense has basically produced fantasy RB2s. To expect more from Mixon, you're counting on him winning three role battles AND a change in identity. It could happen, I just wouldn't count on it and would only draft him as a fantasy RB2 this year.


Wide Receivers



















For a very long time, Cincinnati was a reliably WR-friendly offense. That changed under Jackson, who only gave an average share of targets – and below average total due to his run-heavy offense – to his WRs. Zampese threw to his WRs more often than Jackson, but nothing like the Bratkowski or even Gruden level. While that history puts some upside on WR usage, I think we'll see around 62% of the targets go to WRS in Cincinnati this year, a slight dip from 2016. With 580 total passes, and Dalton taking sacks at his career rate of 5.6%, that sends around 340 targets towards the WRs, a mildly WR-friendly number compared to the rest of the league.



















WR1 is defined as the team’s WR who got the most targets. The Target % for WR1 is the share of the targets to his position group.

At first glance, last year was a very down year for WR1 targets in this offense. Of course, those numbers represent just 10 games of A.J. Green. While he was active, he was seeing 51% of the team's WR targets – an extraordinary share – and was on pace for 157 targets total. If he were to match that share of targets in the offense I've estimated above, he'd see 170+ this year. Even at his career rate of 806 targets in 86 games, he'd end with 150 in a full 2017. I'd say that's his expectation, with 170 being the upside.












WR# based on number of targets: most targeted = WR1, 2nd-most, WR2, etc.
KZ = Ken Zampese's offense in 2016
NFL = Average offense, 2002-2016
Cin = Bengals' offense, 2002-2015

As with the above WR1 target charts, the distribution for Zampese' offense is skewed by Green's injury. Here is what it looked like before Green went out:












Zampese heavily weight his targets to his WR1 and ignored the bottom of his depth chart. I'd expect a bit less extreme behavior in 2017, but this offense historically gives its WR1s more targets than most. And its WR2s, so it's possible that player, either Brandon LaFell or rookie John Ross could see a larger share. Of course, that would come at the expense of the other of the pair, the likely WR3. The WR4+ players will get a bigger share, but still a below average amount, which is good for the fantasy prospects of the top three wideouts on the team.










KZ F1 – Ken Zampese’s top fantasy scorer at this position; PPR scoring
Cin F1 = Bengals' top fantasy scorer at the position

Under Zampese, Green had bounced back to the level we'd seen of him before Hue Jackson. With Zampese concentrating so many targets on Green, a Top 6 finish should be expected again, even if his target share dips about from 2016.










KZ F2 – Ken Zampese’s 2nd highest fantasy scorer at this position; PPR scoring

Cin F2 = Bengals' 2nd highest fantasy scorer at the position

Zampese's #2 WR made it four straight years for the Bengals' #2 being a fantasy WR4. Of course, that overstates LaFell's value – he was WR57 before Green got hurt. Still, with a slight drop in Green's target share, it's reasonable to expect another Top-50 finish for the #2 option at WR here. I suspect that will be LaFell again, but certainly Ross could supplant him. It's unlikely Zampese goes back to the days when the Bengals had two Top-12 fantasy WRs, but LaFell/Ross owners can dream.










KZ F3 – Ken Zampese’s 3rd highest fantasy scorer at this position; PPR scoring
Cin F3 = Bengals' 3rd highest fantasy scorer at the position

The risk for those owners is that the #3 WR in this offense, under Zampese and before, doesn't crack the Top 50. So if you guess wrong, you've left the draft with a waiver wire guy not a decent depth option for your bench. The 2014 #3 in Cincinnati didn't even post 5 FP/G and is off the chart, (in a bad way).

Tight Ends



















Zampese gave his TEs a below average target share and total. It wasn't like the Bratkowski days: he averaged a 13% share of targets to his TEs compared to 21% since he left, but at 18% it was the lowest number since him. It wasn't just Eifert's injury either: TEs had 51 targets (18% share) in the 8 games he played and 49 (17%) when he didn't. However, when Eifert was in the lineup, TE targets were almost exclusively his: 47 of them or 92% of the position's total. Here's the list of TEs who had a bigger share of their teams' TE targets in 2016: …(crickets)…

So while his target total isn't huge, at 5.9 per game it was around 12th in the league for TEs. Note that when he was out, the #1 TE got 3.8 targets per game, so his replacement was not used the same way.










KZ F1 – Ken Zampese’s top fantasy scorer at this position; PPR scoring
Cin F1 = Bengals' top fantasy scorer at the position

Under Zampese, Eifert stayed pretty steady around TE6 despite a target number that would indicate he'd rank lower for fantasy. He didn't because of TDs. While he didn't match the one-a-game pace set with 13 TDs in the same number of appearances in 2015, here's the list of TEs who scored more than his 0.6 TD/game in 2016:…

Eifert's TD scoring value boosts his fantasy worth. When healthy, he's a solid fantasy starter. Unfortunately, he's played 15, 1, 13, and 8 games respectively in his four seasons. If you draft him, you need a backup plan because his injury risk is high. His target dominance and TD scoring are unique and a replacement will not have his fantasy value.



Overall, based on Zampese' history tempered by his predecessors', some thoughts on this system:

  • Total plays should be about average (1030) and neutral for fantasy purposes.
  • The offense should be relatively run-heavy, 44% rushes, up if they win more than 8 games, down if they win fewer.
  • QB: Draft Dalton as a backup, he's been QB6 with his Eifert in the lineup, so there's upside here.
  • RB: About 400 carries to share among the RBs.
    • RB1 will get about 60% of the carries (240) but there is upside to 70% (280).
    • RBs will see fewer targets than most teams and the top ballcarrier willonly see about 30 targets.
    • If Bernard is the pass-catching back, he'll probably have more fantasy value than the leading rusher, but both are fantasy RB3s.
  • WR: around 340 targets, a mildly WR-friendly number but capped by run-focused offensive identity.
    • Green should be about WR6 overall, based on 150 expected targets, with upside to 170 targets and more fantasy production.
    • Bengals 2nd wideout has a good chance to a Top 50 fantasy WR but the #3 here is irrelevant.
  • TE: Eifert’s a solid fantasy starter but if you draft him, you need a backup plan because his injury risk is high.
    • His value to this offense is unique and any replacement would not have his fantasy value.

Zampese remains a bit of a question mark but I think I've covered the possibilities of how identity might vary this year. The #2 WR is also a question: LaFell or Ross? The winner of this battle is worth a roster spot as a depth player (fantasy WR4), but the loser has little value as the #3 in this offense. So if you draft one of them, you have to factor that in as downside. But the big question mark is Joe Mixon's role. He could take over one of the three main RB functions: lead ballcarrier, pass-catcher, and goal-line back. If Mixon takes over as the lead rusher in preseason, he has enough upside that I'd draft him as a fantasy RB2 (higher than I'd take Hill if Mixon got hurt in preseason). To expect more from Mixon, you're counting on him winning three role battles AND a change in identity for this offense. It could happen, I just wouldn't count on it.

Mike Horn
Statistical Analyst

Mike, our resident stat head, has been playing fantasy football for over 15 years and high-stakes leagues for over a decade.  He joined the Fantasy Guru staff in 2005.

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December 31, 1969
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December 31, 1969